Bad parochialism, good provincialism?

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3 Sep 2012

17 parochialism, good provincialism?&id=nc

Every time there’s a hullabaloo over what Balasaheb Thackeray or his feisty (and politically estranged) nephew Raj Thackeray has said or, to be more precise, alleged to have said, I cannot help but wonder what media would have done on a dull day had the Thackeray clan not existed. The kerfuffle over what media claims Raj Thackeray has said about Biharis during a closed-door meeting with MNS members is a case in point.

I wouldn’t dare claim that I can understand Marathi or that I can read the language. Those who can (and are not necessarily fans of Raj Thackeray, his uncle or his mild-mannered cousin) have watched the video recording of Raj Thackeray’s speech and confirmed the following points:

  • “Hindi news channels should stop distorting my statements on the Bihari issue. They should report objectively… They should first understand the issue before broadcasting it … otherwise we know how to deal with it.”
  • “What I said was that the Bihar Government should stop creating hurdles in tracking down criminals who are wanted in Maharashtra…”
  • “Hindi news channels are twisting my statement out of context to increase their viewership… English news channels don’t belong to this country. They are lost in their own world. They exist on another planet.”
  • “Nitish Kumar and other Bihari politicians should address the issue. Why are criminals using Bihar as a short-cut to Bangladesh and why is the Bihar Government doing nothing to check this? Understand the problem, then react.”

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that both Shiv Sena and MNS, as well as Balasaheb Thackeray and Raj Thackeray, don’t feel too kindly towards Biharis (and ‘Bhaiyyas’ from Uttar Pradesh) who flock to Mumbai looking for jobs. The Thackeray clan insists it’s not about a blind dislike of outsiders, but certain immigrants abusing Mumbai’s (and Mumbaikars’) hospitality.

Those who do not agree with that assertion accuse the Thackerays (and the Senas they lead) of practising xenophobia and being intolerant of ‘others’ or ‘outsiders’.

The issue is much more complex and layered than is made out to be. The truth, as the BBC’s black-and-white era advertisement had it, comes in shades of grey. So also with the Senas versus Biharis story – contrived reasons to explain the stressful relationship between the two are both simplistic and misleading.

If we were to look for who cast the first stone, it would be the Shiv Sena. It is the original sinner: “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians” is not only a slogan for the Thackeray sainiks, but also the raison d’être of the deeply parochial organisation Balasaheb Thackeray founded in 1966 to combat “Marathi marginalisation”. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is an offshoot of the Shiv Sena; it remains committed to the objectives of the parent organisation.

The Shiv Sena was born six years after Maharashtra’s formation following an often violent agitation by Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, culminating in the infamous police firing on agitators at Mumbai’s Flora Fountain in which 105 people were killed, forcing a cussed Morarji Desai to climb down from his high horse. Strangely though, Balasaheb Thackeray did not unleash the city’s lumpen proletariat on Gujarati traders and businessmen, who stayed put after Bombay State was carved into Maharashtra and Gujarat, but immigrant Tamilians and their Udupi eateries.

Decades later, it is the turn of ‘North Indians’.

Much has been said and written to denounce the real and verbal violence against Hindi-speaking ‘outsiders’; the Thackerays deserve much of the castigation that has come their way. But in our haste to criticise their politics of nativism, let us not forget that parochialism is the other name for regionalism. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that ‘State politics’ across India, as opposed to ‘national politics’, is largely based on pandering to parochial pride and provincial sentiments camouflaged as regional aspirations.

In Tamil Nadu, the idea of a ‘Dravida Desam’ where Brahmins — described as “agents of North India” in DMK pamphlets — shall have no place, continues to titillate popular imagination. In Andhra Pradesh, NT Rama Rao made ‘Telugu Desam’ the platform of his politics; his political heir, Chandrababu Naidu, who now heads the Telugu Desam Party, continues to build on it.

Shibu Soren who floated and led the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha would often assert at public rallies demanding a separate tribal State that dikus were not welcome in his land. Even after a separate State was formed, he remained adamant that Jharkhand must remain the “sole preserve” of adivasis and moolvasis. Jharkhand, Soren’s political legatees will tell you, was created for the “rights of tribals and not non-tribals, for the actual sons-of-the-soil”.

The Left-liberal commentariat will, of course, disingenuously suggest that there is merit in pursuing a ‘tribals first’ policy in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh; after all, they are the original inhabitants and have been marginalised in their own land. But shorn of crude rhetoric, this is precisely what is being claimed in Maharashtra – ‘sons-of-the-soil’ have the first right to jobs, housing and amenities.

A similar sentiment is cited to justify violence against non-Assamese in Assam where migrant labourers and traders from Bihar have been targeted by ‘sons-of-the-soil’ seeking to assert their rights in their State. Many would still recall the anti-foreigners agitation that was triggered by the discovery of voters in Mongoldoi having multiplied several times over, thanks to illegal immigration from Bangladesh, when a by-election was necessitated following the death of Hiralal Patwa on March 28, 1979.

Till the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, the All-Assam Students’ Union, which organised the ‘Bangaal kheda’ agitation, held the State, and the country, to ransom. It is another matter that despite being in power twice, the AGP has failed miserably in tracking down and deporting Bangladeshis; the IMDT Act of 1983 (which has since been struck down by the Supreme Court) was not alone to blame for this failure.

But few would recall that the seeds of the anti-foreigners agitation were sown during an earlier virulently parochial agitation against ‘outsiders’ disparagingly referred to as “Ali-Kuli-Bangaali”. Very few Bengalis now remain in Assam, most having migrated back to West Bengal, while kulis — tribals from what was once known as Chhota Nagpur — employed in tea gardens continue to face the wrath of the ‘sons-of-the-soil’, some of whom infamously stripped and chased a young tribal girl in the streets of Guwahati as others gawked.

It would also be in order to point out how Kashmiris shut their doors on ‘other’ Indians (although, and rightly so, ‘other’ Indians open their doors to all Kashmiris. Provincialism and parochialism acquire a sinister edge when Hindu Kashmiris are treated as ‘others’ by the Muslims of Kashmir Valley. There’s nothing edifying about that terrible exclusion.

It would, however, be incorrect to believe that the perceived rights of ‘sons- of-the-soil’ over those of ‘outsiders’ followed the creation of linguistic States. TN Joseph and SN Sangita, in their research paper, “Preferential Politics and Sons-of-the-Soil Demands: The Indian Experience”, have pointed out how the ‘sons-of-the-soil’ demands were advocated by leaders of the nationalist movement. “For instance, a report prepared by Rajendra Prasad for the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress presents an extensive survey of the Bihar situation as of 1938. This report, endorsed by the Indian National Congress, uses the term ‘provincials’ to refer to the sons-of-the-soil and declares that their ‘desire to seek employment in their own locality is natural and not reprehensible, and rules providing for such employment to them are not inconsistent with the high ideals of the Congress’. Rajendra Prasad argued in the report that it is ‘just and proper that the residents of a province should get preference in their own province in the matter of public services and educational facilities… It is neither possible nor wise to ignore these demands, and it must be recognised that in regard to services and like matters the people of a province have a certain claim which cannot be overlooked’.”
Between 1938 and 2012, India has travelled a long distance and the national economy is now vastly different from what it was even a decade ago. But provincialism — or call it what you may — remains as deeply ingrained as ever. ‘Cosmopolitan India’ is a figment of the commentariat’s imagination.

Kanchan Gupta was Editorial Director of Niti Digital from 2012 to June 2014 and had previously worked at several newspapers, including The Telegraph, The Statesman and The Pioneer. During a break from journalism he served in the PMO as an aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and as Director of Maulana Azad Centre in Cairo.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.

17 parochialism, good provincialism?&id=nc

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  • RN

    with regard to Bombay/Mumbai: the vote of the Sena-MNS comes from the white collar class and only a section of the poor(because the Dalit section is affiliated to other interests).

    about the 60′s and south indians-again this class very close to Dadar in the nearby Matunga was eating into certain preferential jobs/competing directly with them.

    they did not touch the trading class and sabre rattle with the cosmopolitan elite but never come down on them-because the money comes from this class…. without this class Mumbai/Bombay wouldn’t be the “mota maal” centre :)I find many south Bombay types have moved out of this city to Bangalore or even smaller towns…

    the cosmopolitan Bombay of Rushdie belonged to the remnants of the Raj and the old culturati(maharajahs,Business, artistic etc). Once the Maharashtrian identity fused with Hindu pride integrated for the spoils of the fertile metropolis- a new crossroad has been reached for Mumbai.

    • Nikhil

      I disagree with your conclusion in your comment. You seem to suggest that parochial politics only exists in Mumbai. In every major city of our country, parochial politics exists, and thrives, whether some admit or not; Karnataka Rakshana Vedike in Bangalore is another example. Unlike MNS, KRV does not receive enough attention in the national media.

      • RN

        I started my note with “with regard to Bombay/Mumbai”….the article was largely based on the recent happenings in Mumbai and then took off on the larger tangent of parochialism.

        I have lived and do live in Bombay now Mumbai and therefore wanted to comment on a matter i know a bit about. At no point did i say or imply that “Parochialism” is the province of only Mumbai, the MNS or the SS. That is all!

        Thanks for your time and good luck :)

  • Nikhil

    Raj, over the years, has tempered his speeches and he increasingly voices frustrations which many locals agree with either openly or privately. I may not agree with what Raj may conclude, but after hearing what he recently said (disclosure: I am Maharashtrian) one cannot dismiss him as senile – one of the many accusations against him in our Hindi and English media. In his recent speech he read out a law in Kerala that requires interstate migrants to register with the local police station before joining for employment. No one in the media, ironically, is talking about this anti-national law.

    His central argument is against the regional political parties in UP, and Bihar, who have created large vote-banks in Maharashtra. Such parties are not temples of good governance. There is some truth in his argument – the likes of Abu Azmi and Kripashankar Singh have enjoyed plum positions in state politics. This could not have happened without the thriving ghettos which often are the pits of crime, and also cheap labor, in Maharashtra and its capital city. This makes it the double edged sword.

    He seems to support local cultures – call it parochialism if you will. For instance, he will ask Maharashtrians living permanently in Karnataka to learn Kannada and respect local cultures. His point of view is parochialism in Indian politics is thriving in the country, notably Sheila Dikshit’s rant against migrants, but he and his political party is selectively lambasted as being anti-national.

    Has all this impacted the cosmopolitan life in the city? Not really. The rich and the famous of the city, like in any part of the world, do not really care about it. As Indian economy grows and as time passes, the politics practiced by Raj, and his ilk, may fade away. I think they know it and they are trying to make the most out of the current scenarios.

  • Veeresh

    “but immigrant Tamilians and their Udupi eateries.”
    No Sir Udupi is part of Karnataka and bordering to Kerala. It is no where near Tamilnadu.

  • Vivek Shenoy

    @Kanchangupta dada Excellent article! However, Tamilians dont have Udipi Eateries. Kannadigas have it

  • Kailash pareek

    According to a friend whose dad is in mumbai police-
    The guys who vandalized the amar jawan jyoti at azad maidan was cought in bihar and when mumbai police cought him in bihar without informing bihar police, the secratory of bihar gov wrote a letter to both mumbai police commissoner and center about it saying this is not acceptable.

    Clearly if mumbai police had warned bihar police, the guy would have been out of sight for sure.

    I don’t support shiv sena and mns’s extreme politics of regionalism but still in this case he is totally right and hindi media is the real Deshdrohi here..

  • K P Ganesh

    Don’t understand why the author has mixed Tamilians with Udupi eateries


    “who stayed put after Bombay State was carved into Maharashtra and Gujarat, but immigrant Tamilians and their Udupi eateries.”


    Udupi eateries is the hallmark of people belonging to the south Canara districts of Karnataka (Udupi and Mangaluru) and is predominantly Kannada speaking folks, who have been, for ages living in Mumbai (The likes of Shetty’s, Rai’s etc). Quite at loss to be mixing them up with Tamilians.

  • Kumar

    Kanchan, isn’t some form of “clannishness” even more fundamental to the Indian than can be expressed by the ideas of regional parochialism or provincialism ? Me first, my family next, my caste/community, my region, my state…if it were just our preference or pride that would be normal. But the average Indian wants to reserve places for others who are similar to him/her, irrespective of what they are capable of, or what they stand for. The whole power struggle in politics is in that direction, and not in the dimension of ideas or what principles are right or wrong for a society. Welcome your comment on this.

  • Rajesh thakkar

    I agree with u Dada when u say that “Provincialism — or call it what you may — remains as deeply ingrained as ever. ‘Cosmopolitan India’ is a figment of the commentariat’s imagination.”
    To some extent even the SC/ST Reservation is also playing to the provincial gallery.
    As long as the Govt shuns the Vote Bank Politics to appease minorities for parochial gains there is absolutely no hope..
    May your tribe grow exponentially…

  • Sajal

    Kanchan Sir, while I tend to agree with you partially. I wish to go bit deep into the root of this matter. Ill make three simple observations.

    Firstly, its true that Mumbai is not the only place where such regional/community feelings are being fanned by politicians.However, since Mumbai is the Economic hub of India, it gets more prominence and more media glare. Also, the methods employed by these elements in Mumbai are not very acceptable in any decent society.

    The problem of immigrants exists in all big cities in the country. For example, surely Bangluru will have more immigrants as compared to any other city in Karnataka. So, for anyone to say that the pride of their community is being tarnished all over the state because of immigrants in one city, is mere politicking.

    Secondly, lets look at the literacy system ( i do not call it education system)in India. Most State Boards do not prepare students for National/International placements. Most schools churn out literates with very very myopic views that is limited to their region. Hence, the understanding and tolerance towards multiplicity of our Nation does not exist. I say this with conviction as I have traveled and worked in almost all regions of India.

    Lastly. We need to understand that by beating and harassing people, we cannot force them to respect our culture and traditions. On the contrary, we must make ourselves respect worthy to command and not demand respect.

  • Shefali

    Our leader pre-1857 never cared for this Provincialism- Peshwa Baji Rao took refuge in Bithoor,UP after getting defeated by English, His adopted heir, Nana Sahib fought 1857 Mutiny from Kanpur, and finally escaped to Nepal. Imagine, if this Marathi/Bihari/ Awadhi feeling were alive then!!- there would have been no Mutiny, no freedom movement!
    Marwari Traders since last 2000 years have been travelling across all over India , maintain their identity and welcomed.
    Mumbai welcomes Shabana Azmi in Movies but hates Abu Azmi in Politics??

  • Shefali

    That Said, Nitish Bihar govt. no say in harboring that criminals.. Inter State Migration Act not anti-nationals, should be modified to include State Resident ship,which is lacking now

  • hinduismglance

    To Raj Thakray,I would say that the biggest criminal hub is Newyork,that’s the way cities are all over the world.In a technically advanced era,Raj and Nitish can have a conference along with other members and sort thing out.

    Regarding this article,I agree and I disagree.I am not a Marathi but I have lived in Bihar for sometime.I do not think Bihar government has ever been very strong in handling criminals.Infact at one time,voters were shown guns and the entire votes went in favor of the political party who had the might.Political parties encourage Gunda elements.Political party,police and criminals make a team.When criminals from Bihar, are doing bombing,rape,murder and theft in any state,it becomes responsibility of Nitish Kumar to call up Maharashtra government and sort out the issue peacefully.Truth is that Bihar is indeed a criminal hub and people living there also do not feel safe.Can a lady drive from Patna to Aara in the night time?

  • hinduismglance

    Moreover,the matter of crime and bombing is very serious.A CM ought to be professional in dealing with such issue instead Nitish Kumar was behaving like Rakhi Savant using words like Sirfeera etc(I don’t know if media quoted him truthfully or just a made up statement)

  • Lalit Ambardar

    Growing provincialism has roots in parochial polity aimed at quick electoral gains.But it can not be denied that demagogy thrives in near total absence of genuine attempts at national integration across provinces across India. ‘Secular’ rhetoric has left no space for cultural integration in India.While social studies curriculum has pages on ‘Great Mughals’-the invaders, the native ethnic diversity is generally ignored.

  • Indian

    I think only wrong thing that remains is that media still does not understand or purposely doesnt want to focus the actual issues raised by Raj:
    1. Why doesnt media check with Mumbai Police?
    2. Why doesnt media ask Nitish for crime rate and shelters?
    3. Why this that when other states or for that matter other countries like US or UK talk of job preferences to localites there is no such anguish? Arent indians contributing to their economy? arent indians har workers? Nt

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